Using Twitter

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I have been a user of twitter for almost 4 years now although initially I just started to test the waters, finding little use for twitter at the time.   Some months later a colleague got me back on twitter mainly due to the enthusiasm he displayed with regards the potential twitter had to help educators develop professionally.

I haven’t looked back since then with my involvement and use of twitter steadily increasing.   My new years resolutions for this year included the intention to build on a 2015 average of around 1.9 tweets per day.   My regular involvement in #sltchat, #mltchat plus involvement in #teacher5adaysketch, #29daysofwriting, #hacktheclassroom and #appsharelive sees me currently having posted around 370 times across Jan and Feb so far which amounts to over 7 tweets per day.   I will admit that Buffer is playing a keep part in this as it allows me to schedule my regular tweets.

The question is why I am finding twitter so useful?

My first answer to this lies in the list of events above.    Without twitter I would have never came across #appsharelive or #hacktheclassroom to name but two events.   The events are also not limited to online events.   I found out about the up and coming #tmbmth16 event in Bournemouth via Twitter.

A second answer would be access to resources and ideas.   Educators are regularly posting about apps or teaching and learning approaches which they have tried or are planning.    #appsharelive for example provided me a list of 5 or 6 new apps in each of its 3 sessions to date.

I also find twitter allows me to engage with other educators who may share similar or different viewpoints and beliefs with regards education.   As such this leads to questioning and discussion allowing for reflection.    Only the other day via #29daysofwriting a person who I would consider a colleague even although we have never me, questioned a sweeping statement I had made.    This made me question my views and the statement I had made, which in reality had been a little sweeping.    Next time I will try to be more careful.

My final benefit relates to the social aspect in that via twitter I have access to teachers and educational staff like myself who are engaged in trying to continually improve and to collaborate and share.    I consider them colleagues!   Events like #teacher5adaysketch serve to strengthen this bond, to provide support when I need it and encourage balance.

I continue to enjoy using twitter and look forward to continuing to share ideas and thoughts with you.

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New Years Resolutions

The new year is now almost upon us. As such it is time again to decide on the new years resolutions. This year I am adopting a SMART approach to my plans. This is the result of my review of last year where my plans were a little vague and difficult to measure. I have tried to be a little more specific and measurable this year.

My New Years resolution relate to my interactions with my PLN and my professional learning. They do not include resolutions relating to my job for which I have a separate more formal road-map / plan for the year or to myself personally.

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My PLN related new years resolutions for this year are as below:

  1. To blog at least twice per month throughout 2016
  2. To maintain my presence and contributions to twitter (697 or 1.9 tweets per day over the year)
  3. To achieve Google Certified Educator Level 2 status
  4. To read at least 1 book per month including re-reading existing books
  5. To use tools such as Evernote and Buffer to allow me to work smarter as opposed to harder
  6. To get involved in twitter chats including #sltchat on a fortnightly basis
  7. To get involved in events and conferences including virtual events such as #appsharelive as well as actual events such as BETT
  8. To experiment with video and YouTube as a sharing medium at least four times within the year.

If I was taking a leaf out of @byusuf I might describe it as #share , #experiment and #grow

I look forward to 2016, new opportunities and new challenges!

Also posted on staffrm.io here.

Connected Educator Month

It was 2012 when I first created my twitter account however at the time I wasn’t sure why I had created an account or how I might use the account.    Some months later it was a colleague who planted the idea of using twitter for professional development.   This resulted in my logging back in to my, at that stage, dormant account and beginning to search for people discussing education and edtech in particular.   It wasn’t long before I was hooked on the access to a multitude of new ideas, opinions and resources.     Twitter proved to be a quick an easy way for me to dip in and out of professional development as and when I had the time and felt like it.    I found myself stealing 5 or 10, or if very lucky 30, minutes of time during which I could quickly scan through twitter on my phone for interesting posts regarding educational research, edtech apps and software and other educational resources.

I quickly found that I was finding more articles than I had time to read in the limited time I had managed to put aside to access twitter.   At this point I came across a number of twitter posts and through them blogs discussing how Evernote could be used.   So I started filing the tweets and blogs I found in the few minutes I managed to steal using Evernote so that I could then access them at a later stage when I had more time.

I have grown to be an avid fan of twitter and its potential to help teachers grow as professionals.    Personally twitter has allowed me to communicate with people I wouldn’t normally have been able to communicate with.   It has allowed me to access new creative ideas, which in turn has helped and encouraged me to be creative in my work.    Twitter has led me to work with others in sharing ideas, in discussing topics and in solving problems;  I have worked collaboratively.    It has also allowed me to see and discuss other viewpoints and ideas, often requiring a critical response.     Basically twitter has helped and encouraged me to use the 21st century skills we often talk about in terms of students.

Twitter has supported me to develop my 21st century skills and in doing so model for students the traits we wish them to develop.   It has also allowed me to access resources and ideas.

Tomorrow begins Connected Educator Month 2015 so I hope you will join me in sharing and in developing the teaching profession as a whole.     I also hope you will share and promote Connected Educator Month with those colleagues who have yet to experience the potential of twitter so that we can increase the number of educators sharing and collaborating to ensure  our students receive the best learning opportunities possible.

I look forward to connecting!

 

Collating ideas

I am a hoarder; I love to collect things however once I have them I have difficulty throwing them away as I am convinced they might come in useful at some later stage.     In terms of physical items this tends to be technology items such as old Atom processor based netbooks, every type of cabling you can think of plus some old 10Mbit network switches and routers.  I also suspect I have some old floppy discs and floppy drives lying around.

This need to collect extends beyond just physical items to teaching ideas and resources.   I feel the need to collect the good ones which I find.   For some time now I have been using twitter and reading a variety of educational blogs and websites, and as a result have found lots and lots of new ideas and resources.   As I have found more and more new ideas and resources there has been an increasing need to find an efficient way to store plus to collate these ideas and resources.   This has weighed on my mind.

Having just purchased a new tablet in the form of a Galaxy Tab S I appear to have found my solution in using both Pinterest and also EverNote.   I am not new to either of these two apps however up until recently my used has been rather limited.   Ever since getting the Tab I have found myself throwing the ideas I find straight into Pinterest and EverNote.    I have found myself using both Apps much more than I used to and have also started to learn more about effectively using the Apps to collate the materials which I have found.   This has made me consider the importance of collation in this world of ever increasing amounts of information.    We often want to quickly and easily find specific ideas or resources which we have previously encountered.   The internet will allow us to find similar items easily however as the amount of material on the internet increases it also becomes a little more difficult to find the specific items which we wish to find among the masses of other similar info.    Using something like Pinterest or EverNote allows me to collate together all the resources and ideas I find, and to tag them such that they are easy for me to find whenever I need them.

This got me thinking about another issue; lets consider that I do use Pinterest or EverNote to gather all the ideas and resources I like over a period of time.   This would be an excellent resource for me as an educator as the ideas would all be ideas I identify with and often would be things that I tried shortly after finding them.    My ability to recall ideas is limited in a way that computers are not, hence  you could consider the use of the internet and Pinterest or EverNote as an attempt to augment my mental capacities.   I would be able to recall ideas and resources I had found years ago without difficulty.    I may come to rely on this enhanced recollection ability.   The issue is that this excellent stored resource of my ideas and resources would exist only in the cloud.    As such the service provider such as Pinterest or EverNote could at any time change the service they offer or could even close the service altogether.   At this point this repository of my individual ideas may be lost.

So the question is how much should we rely on cloud based services in our lives and in our work?    I also wonder about young students who have been avid users of social media solutions; Have they considered that the total story of their life as presented in FaceBook or other sites, which they are proud of, may suddenly and without much warning cease to exist?     Or do students just not hoard the way I do as they can find anything they need via the internet, and could the increasing using of SnapChat be an indication as to this being the case?

I think there could be some good discussion points in the above, particularly where the issues are discussed with students.

Reflections on 2014

As the New Year approaches I feel it is a good time to reflect on 2014 and all that I have done during the year. It is also time to start planning and to make my resolutions for 2015 and the year ahead.

 

So first of all the new year ends my sixth year in the middle east. This year I have attended 3 conferences in the GESS/GEF, Digital Education and Education Investment MENA conferences, presenting at 2 of them. My biggest reflection on these conferences is the lack of change in what is being presented, in what is being sold and on the reality on the ground. The conferences this year have felt very similar to previous conferences I have attended here in the Middle East in the five years previous. The messages presented in the key note speeches call for change including a need for personalisation of learning and for greater efforts to value creativity and to encourage student voice and leadership however this call is but an echo of the same call made in 2013, 2012, etc. The reality on the ground, in my opinion, is that little has changed. This being said I read similar calls for similar change on twitter from other parts of the world which suggests this is not an issue localised to the middle east. I believe this is an example of the fact that education is slow to change possibly as, as some people might say in defending traditional approaches, “we have done it this way for years”. My hope is that the calls for change must continue to be made and that they need to be echoed in greater numbers as each year passes but more than this we need ever increasing numbers of schools, school leaders, teachers and support staff to respond to the call for change and to do something about it, providing other schools a model to aspire to, or to inspire others towards action.

 

2014 saw me getting increasingly involved in using twitter, blogging, etc as I set out to build a bigger PLN and to share my ideas and thoughts but possibly more importantly on a personal note, for me to get ideas and views from others to help build and refine my understanding. Thinking back I think my plans for 2014 were grander with regards my PLN than that which I have achieved however this has very much been to do with studying for a Masters, ever demanding work issues and some personal trials and tribulations. I hope in 2015 to build on what I have done in 2014, including regular twitter use and involvement in various chats, regular blogging and possibly some videoblogs, however I do not necessarily expect to do more than this year, just to keep it regular and that brings me to my next point.

 

Work life balance! I have felt depressed over the last few days, as I have had some spare time on my hands. Having given some thought as to why this is the case, the conclusion I came to is that I am addicted to the fast paced work I do in providing consultancy services to schools and to my PLN, to twitter and my blogs and websites. All of this leaves little time for relaxing and for family. I have became that used to this pressure on my available time that when I have time I don’t know what to do with it and feel depressed as a result. My challenge for 2015 is to achieve a better balance, both for myself, for my family but also for my work as surely a more balanced and happy me will produce better outcomes.

 

2014 saw me develop a new data website for a project I work on requiring me to build on my understanding and skills with PHP, HTML, CSS and SQL.   I very much enjoyed doing this so my hope in 2015 is to identify a programming project I can get my teeth into although in relation to the work life balance issue above, this is low priority and therefore is likely the first thing I will put on hold.

 

I think this year I also realized that I possibly haven’t reflected much on the fact that I have now been working in education within the Middle East for six years. During that time I have seen large scale changes introduced with some meeting with success where others met with lesser success. As such I plan to do some reflection over the coming year over what it means to be an expat educator and also to share some of my many experiences, some good and some not so good.

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Sitting by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai writing this I realise that the above may focus on what I haven’t done in 2014 and what I will do in 2015 but I need to also recognize what I have done and have achieved in 2014. In 2014 I have supported 2 new schools in creating their IT strategies, infrastructure, hardware, software and services from pre-construction forward. One of these two schools has been built and now opened with equipment as specified while the other is due to be complete early in 2015 for opening in Feb/Mar. I have also developed a number of bespoke database systems under very short timeframes with constantly changing system requirements.    I have supported a number of school leaders across a number of schools in leading school improvement including but not limited to technology projects. I have completed my masters programime while juggling many other tasks and requirements, both work and personally related. I have served as a conflict resolution specialist on two or three occasion where I have been required to act as an intermediary between schools and other professionals engaged in disagreement. I have delivered repeated very successful ICT Champions programmes to teachers from schools all over the UAE trying to encourage more uae teachers to engage in developing professional learning networks plus to question what they believe to be fact and/or the way things should be done.    The ICT Champions programme within the UAE is definitely something I hope to build on during 2015.

 

In 2014 I feel I have achieved a lot however not as much as I would have liked, but then again I have, and will continue to have, high expectations. Although I have high expectations I need to temper this will a realistic viewpoint as to what is achievable given other constraints, as it is important to achieve balance in what has been done versus what I wanted to achieve but was unable to. As to 2015, I hope to build on this year, to do more of what matters, less of what doesn’t, to share and collaborate with others and above all to be true to myself in all I do.

 

Happy new year, all the best and may you meet with health and every happiness during 2015.

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Image courtesy of hadkhanong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twitter: Shifting Paradigms

Was working with teachers today in a school during which time we were looking at lesson planning using the 5 minute lesson plan from @teachertoolkit.    During the session I used my usual prompt for ideas as shown below:

Now a couple of teachers raised some issues with regards student behaviour and suggested that they had already exhausted their 26 available letters.   My response to this was to suggest that as a group of teachers, together we may be able to share ideas.   If each of us has 26 ideas, corresponding to the 26 letters in the alphabet, then there must be a high likelihood that as a group we will be able to collectively generate more than the 26 ideas which we can generate individually.   It was at this point I realised that “if plan A doesn’t work” quote is only the first part of the process.   The second part is if Plan A to Z fail, widen your pool of ideas.    So at this point we seek the advice of our immediate colleagues for more ideas.   I would suggest that this group of teachers would increase the available number of ideas however on reflection I would suggest that the increase would not be significant.   All teachers in the group are most likely working in the same school and as such will have a shared perception of the issue at hand.   As such they are likely to have approached the problem in similar manners meaning that the ideas generated will generally show high levels of similarity with only a small number of new ideas being generated by enlarging from an individual teacher to a group of teachers within the same school.   Enlarging the group further to encompass local schools or teachers still within easy communication, or geographical distance would result in still further ideas however again if teachers are within the same national educational context, curriculum context, etc, there are likely to be shared perceptions which again will limit the ideas which will become apparent.

Enter twitter.   Twitter allows teachers to contact and seek ideas from teachers across the world from totally different contexts.   This means that there is a higher likelihood of original ideas which may not have been considered among the groups previously discussed.    We have effectively widened our pool of ideas about as far as we can do.   Now this advantage does not come without some disadvantages, namely those with polarised beliefs as to the “truth” and “fact”.   Where people come from totally different contexts it is possible that one teachers “fact” may be another teachers “fiction”.   Some tweeps are a little too forceful with their expressions as to their “fact”.   This disadvantage, however, should be minimal as teachers are after all professionals and therefore should be able to have professional disagreements plus should be able to appreciate differing viewpoints and contexts which may exist.

Overall, twitter is not just about opening us up to more people and therefore more ideas, but about opening us up to ideas from totally different contexts.   It opens us up to ideas we may not have been able to arrive at ourselves given the paradigm within which we operate.    Access to these ideas may also in turn spark new ideas in us born out of the paradigm shift which may result from seeing a problem through a totally different viewpoint.

 

Culture

Am currently doing some research into organisational culture within schools and as such am reading around the subject.    Deal and Peterson (2009) cited a number of research studies of both businesses and also schools where evidence suggested that the culture of the organisation impacting on the outcomes of the organisation.    As such it hit me that culture is a critical part of a successful school

In an earlier post I mentioned about the importance of relationships; well these relationships and how people interact, share, discuss and even argue provides us some insight into the culture within a school.   If all interactions are open, positive and focussed on continual improvement and on learning, then the culture is likely to be of the positive open type.    If discussions and interactions are undermined with selfish motivations or if staff discussions are polarised by individual points of views then the likelihood is that the culture will be closed and negative, assuming such motivations and opinionated points of view permeate the whole organisation.

So the next time I am having a conversation I need to be wary of how my interaction paints the organisational culture to others who are watching.    Now this suggests the self fulfilling nature of organisational culture.    A closed negative culture will result in negative interactions between staff and even students.   These negative interactions will result in negativity growing within the school which will result in further negative interactions and so on and so forth.    If a positive open culture exists then the positive interactions between staff will create a positive open environment which will result in more positive interactions.    Now here I am looking very much at the overall school culture as it is possible that a school with an overall negative culture may have positive sub-cultures existing within it, and vice versa.

Culture therefore is a powerful feature of an organisation in its ability to encourage positivity which in turn will increase motivation and ultimately student outcomes.    The issue is that we very seldom look at the culture of a school instead choosing to look at the measurable aspects of school performance such as standardised test results.    Seldom do we stop and look at the traditions symbols, history, stories and routines which go to establishing, as well as providing us a window on, a schools culture.

Now the issue of stories strikes a cord with me after a recent training session.   At the end of the session the attendees stated that they had very much enjoyed the session, stating that they particularly enjoyed the stories and anecdotes I had used throughout the session.  So my question to school leaders at the moment would be:  What are the stories of your school and what do they tell people about the school and its culture?

Get Connected

For some time now I have been suggesting to teachers the need to get connected.    Through the use of twitter we can access a pool of experience, skill, ideas and talents which bt (before twitter) would have been impossible, using this pool to improve or maybe evolve our own teaching practice.     As a teacher I can spend just a few minutes each day searching for ideas which I can use within my teaching practice, or I can spend a longer period of time when I have the time.   This is very much different from how it used to be where I had to wait for the next professional development ( or Professional Learning) session which was often held at the end of the day when I was at my most tired having spent all day teaching.   In addition these PD sessions were often expensive for the school as they involved paying someone to deliver the session.

Recently I read a blog post entitled “Why teacher should connect” which echoes my feelings.    I also saw the below post on twitter (surprise, surprise) which sums up the reasoning behind why teachers should make use of social media such as twitter:

Another post I saw referred to the need for communication.

We are preparing students for a a globalised world where more and more people are migrating to work away from where they were born and grew up.    As such do we not need to start considering a globalised approach to education?    If we are going to consider such a globalised approach there is a need for discussion across the world and surely social media such as twitter provides just the tool needed to facilitate such discussion.

So, if you haven’t already, Get Connected!!

 

One size fits all.

answers_smI recently worked with some teachers looking at how ICT could be integrated into lessons and how they might support this process.   During the course of the session I made the point that the approaches which work best are likely to be different for different teachers.   I also raised the fact that the context within which they operate may also impact on which techniques and approaches work.      An approach that might work in an inner city boys primary school may not work in a rural girls secondary school.    As such teachers need to be searching for ideas, experimenting and generally being proactive in their approach.   They cannot afford to wait for a professional development session to deliver all the answers.

This got me thinking about the theories and models which we use in education, as well as about some posts I have read recently.     I previously blogged about how a few people had raised issues with De Bonos thinking hats (http://educationandtechnology.me/?p=93) .    Now personally I like De Bonos thinking hats in terms of a teaching tool which, in certain situations, can be very useful, however equally I can see that in other situations it may be inappropriate.    I can also see that for some teachers it may not suit their teaching style however this does not mean that the tool is lacking in value.     Equally where De Bonos thinking hats is useful, I do not see this is adding to its value.    It is a tool and its usefulness or lack thereof depends on the context within which it is used and the purpose for which it is used.

Thinking about this further, I considered Blooms taxonomy which generally I have found to be treated as fact.    An earlier discussion with a colleague, who introduced me to the SOLO taxonomy (http://classteaching.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/using-solo-taxonomy-to-develop-student-thinking-learning/) , led me to question this.    Both Blooms and SOLO are just 2 of a number of models or tools which we can use to help us in our teaching.    They may be appropriate in certain circumstances and inappropriate in others.

So to my point: We as teachers need to be open to new ideas and to listen to others suggestions.    It may be that we disregard these new ideas as inappropriate however we need to remember that this is based on our personal preferences and on the context within which we operate.    The idea itself cannot be considered as appropriate or inappropriate when devoid of context.    Equally we need to apply different models at different times rather than relying on a single “correct” model.    Teaching is a complex task, so the more tools and ideas we have available to us, the more effective our teaching is likely to be.   Personal Learning Networks are a key part of this.

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